Battlefield 4 Review
Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360Also available on PC, Sony PlayStation 3, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Gaming history has always been shaped by its heated rivalries. During the Nineties it was Mario vs Sonic. At the turn of the millennium we were treated to camp FIFA eventually toppling reigning footy champs Pro Evolution Soccer. As the world prepares to say goodbye to this current generation of video game console, it’s safe to say that the war between two first-person shooters not only defined this era, but put multiplayer gaming at the forefront of both our minds and our spending habits.
Call of Duty may have broken all sorts of sales records, particularly with its iconic Modern Warfare series, but nipping at its heels has always been Battlefield – a series that established itself on PC before side-stepping onto Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in order to take down its bitter rival. This is one war that is set to continue well into next-gen console territory, but for now can EA and DICE enlist a mass of new recruits with Battlefield 4 to lead the charge into the uncharted territory?
The Xbox 360 version of the game contains two discs and given that the single-player campaign finds its home on the second disc, it’s clear where the loyalties of the Battlefield 4 fan club lie. In a relatively safe American gung-ho military thriller, the story follows on from the tense battle lines that drawn in the last game. As the US and Russia face the the brink of war, a military coup d’état in China at the hands of the illusive General Chang sees the world on the road to World War Three.
The wafer thin plot struggles to really make much sense after that, as players tick off their FPS bingo cards through a snappy five-hour campaign consisting of clichéd twists and unsurprising set pieces. Hostage situations, double agents, breaking rank, and the inevitable torture sequence attempt to spur the plot on but do little more than act as loo breaks during the gameplay. Even enlisting heavyweight acting talent of Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) in the role of fellow marine Irish isn’t enough to save this Hollywood turkey of a plot.
The squad-based emphasis that Battlefield has always succeeded at making enjoyable also makes an appearance in single player. Using the right bumper button, you can spot and tag enemies before issuing the Execute order, giving Irish and the rest of your band of brothers the signal to empty a couple of rounds into opposing forces. They’ll never get the same body count as you, but it makes for some handy covering fire and even the occasional kill. However, when left to their own devices, the AI of your allies can be rather frustrating. Mid-level dialogue between the characters breaks up the gameplay at the worst of times and, all too often, proceeding to the next area is put on hold until Irish has had plenty of time to say his piece.
Admittedly, the campaign doesn’t quite ask for the same reflex readiness that is required online. Enemies throw much of their firepower in your direction, but generally hunker down in one position until you can put a bullet through their head. Enemy AI isn’t Battlefield 4’s strongest point, but at least it gives you some time to spend some quality time with the many weapons, gadgets and upgrades that the game has to offer.
As you unlock and discover new weapons they will be added to a cache that gives players the chance to swap their weapons at key points throughout the level. Just like the online games, points are awarded for kills, headshots, destroying vehicles and for the actions of your squad that will eventually go towards earning some of Battlefield 4’s in-game achievements. However, it’s a shame that these points aren’t transferable between online and offline modes. Some may argue that it could give players an unfair advantage, but given that the multiplayer is high on the agenda, it would have been a nice incentive for gamers to plough through this otherwise lacklustre single-player mode.
Of course, the real reason to enlist in Battlefield 4 is for the cripplingly punishing yet totally addictive multiplayer. Relatively unchanged since 2011’s Battlefield 3, it sees the return of the ticket system to many of the multiplayer modes that made the console version of the Battlefield series such a success. The large warzones of Conquest or the ever-expanding maps in Rush mode give players plenty of room to use the game’s array of vehicles to full effect, as well as plenty of obstacles to blow up and demolish with an ever-expanding arsenal of weapons awarded to players who put in the man hours.
In Battlefield, you can muster up points for just about anything. Kills are obviously going to at the top of your to-do list but the game encourages you to think a little more tactfully. Battlefield’s trademark Conquest mode makes a welcome return, giving players the chance to earn experience by capturing and defending one of the level’s flag positions. Working as a team, blowing up vehicles, tagging enemy soldiers or resuscitating your fellow soldiers are just some of the key ways points can be earned, making Battlefield 4 perhaps a little more diverse than its bloodthirsty rival first-person shooters.
Two new modes have entered the fray this time around, expanding Battlefield’s already well-stocked arsenal. Domination plays out like Conquest, except on a much smaller scale. Capturing and defending flags is still top priority, but there are no vehicles this time around so you won’t find team-mates spending the first five minutes of the game trying to master helicopter controls or racing for the closest tank. The maps have been cropped to make the gameplay feel faster paced overall and a hell of a lot tighter.
If you do find Domination a bit on the easy side, then Defuse mode is for you. Not for the faint of heart, this mode takes a leaf out of Counter-Strike’s book as it doesn’t come with respawns included. Players must wait until the round ends before trying their luck again so it’s advised to steer well clear of this mode until you’ve well and truly earned your stripes. In fact Defuse will separate the men from the boys and even high ranking Battlefield veterans will immediately notice they’ll have to change their tactics to adapt to the more challenging requirements that this mode demands.
One of the biggest features to be added to the Battlefield roster is the “Levolution” enhancement. The series has always prided itself in bringing ultimate destruction to the table by allowing players to chip away at buildings in order to flush out enemy soldiers. Battlefield 4 takes that idea one step further. During an online match, parts of the map can and will radically change. Skyscrapers will level, sea levels will rise and tropical storms will engulf the area depending on which map you’re playing. If a skyscraper does level, there may be a few casualties whereas floods and storms just make aiming or steering vehicles a little more difficult. It’s a novel idea that may cause a bit of mid-game panic, but not one that entirely shifts the tides of war as much as you’d hope.
The Commander app also makes a welcome return to the series, having originally only featured in some shape or form in conjunction with PC only titles Battlefield 2 and Battlefield 2142. Available once you’ve reached rank ten, the app allows you to provide support to the multiplayer games using a tablet device. From UAV recon to explosive air-strikes, this app presents a tactical bird’s eye view of a map and can be used to really turn a battle into a one-sided fight. It may take some getting used to, especially if you’re using it while your boots are firmly on the ground but for those armchair generals who are trying to earn a couple of sneaky experience points on the way to work, it means you can immerse yourself in the world of Battlefield 4 even when you’re away from your console.
For all of its innovative bonuses however, Battlefield 4 on Xbox 360 is beginning to show signs of age. It can be applauded for great water physics and being able to handle the frame rate of a constantly dynamic environment rather well in both single and multiplayer. However, the character models and maps are definitely looking rather blocky and dated, even at 1080p. During respawns, maps can take some time to load and when they eventually do, they are beginning to look rather bland and dull, thanks in particular to Battlefield 4’s soft colour palette. Graphically, the game favours explosions over detail, and it remains to be seen if the jump to next-gen console will restore this balance.
Until then, Battlefield 4 puts up a worthy fight for the title of this generation’s top first-person shooter. The innovative features are nice touches, but ultimately don’t give us the glimpse into the future that we’d all hoped for. Instead, EA and DICE have put all their eggs in one basket with an unbalanced package that shines with its multiplayer, but flounders with its single-player. It’s been six years since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare redefined online shooters and it seems like we may be waiting for Destiny and Titanfall to breathe life into the genre once again. Until then, it seems that the war between both Battlefield and Call of Duty has reached somewhat of a stalemate.